Courage and conviction: Women in journalism honored
International Women's Media Foundation recognizes Jill Carroll and others for their bravery.
For May Chidiac, host of Lebanon's popular "Good Day" TV program, it was a regular Sunday in September. She had just finished a show on Syria's possible involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and had left the studio feeling satisfied and secure. When she got into her car, a half-kilogram of explosives blew up under her front seat.Skip to next paragraph
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She survived, but the blast took her left hand and leg.
"I didn't know at any moment that I was really threatened, even though I'd received some letters saying I would pay with my blood and things like that," she says of last year's explosion. "They usually don't attack women in Lebanon and especially [not] journalists, so I'm kind of a pioneer in that," she adds wryly.
Ms. Chidiac's story serves as a reminder that in much of the world women are still struggling to establish a foothold in the newsroom, just as they did in the United States in the 1960s and '70s. And as they fight for professional standing, women are just as likely as their male colleagues to be targets of repressive political, social, or business interests that are threatened by the truth.
This week, Chidiac is in New York being honored for her courage, integrity, and sacrifice by the International Women's Media Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to strengthening the role of female journalists around the world. Two other reporters – Gao Yu, a freelancer in China, and Jill Carroll of The Christian Science Monitor – are also being feted for putting their profession and the search for truth before their own safety. Elena Poniatowska Amor of Mexico is receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award for her pioneering spirit in paving the way for future generations of female reporters.
These awards, given since 1990, are the only ones in the world devoted specifically to shedding light on the bravery of women in journalism. The recent murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia's top investigative reporters, adds deeper meaning to this year's ceremony.
"That one just hit everyone in the gut," says Ann Cooper, the director of broadcast at the Journalism School at Columbia University in New York, noting the important role that journalists play in a nation's political life. "If [journalists] are not free to write openly about any subject, and to write critically when they've found wrongdoing ..., it's probably a sign the rest of society is restricted as well."
Exactly 10 months to the day after the attack, Chidiac was back on the air. But she now had a new show: "With Audacity."
Instead of dulling her determination, the bombing fired it up. She continues to investigate not only the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, but also the attacks against her and other journalists. And despite the fact that she is still in rehabilitation, she is also teaching young reporters at Notre Dame University in Lebanon and finishing up a doctorate.
"When you want your country to be free and sovereign, you have to keep attached to your beliefs and to keep on working, despite the sacrifices," she says.
Part of her passion was inspired by growing up in a country that was occupied first by Israel and then by Syria. She says she always knew that she wanted to do something that would bring her attention and help her country. She never realized the sacrifice that would require. Noting that two of her male colleagues were killed last year, she now accepts risk as a given.
"It's too late for me to stay away from the danger," she says. "I believe I have a message and I have a mission to accomplish. If I stay away now, all of my sacrifices would have been for nothing. So I'll continue with the last drop of my blood working for my country to be the way I want it to be – free and sovereign."